The Imitation Game: Benedict Cumberbatch sheds light on a tortured genius

Before there was Steve Jobs, there was Alan Turing. Credited with inventing a machine that would one day become the computer that most of us use every day—Turing’s creation was known as the Turing Machine—Turing is ripe for a biopic. Not only is he considered the grandfather of modern computing but the Cambridge professor was also a renowned code breaker who, along with others at the Bletchley Circle in London, helped break the Nazis’ Enigma Code during World War II. These two career achievements more than qualify Turing as a worthy film subject. But he was also, unbeknownst to most of his colleagues, gay during a time when homosexuality was a crime in the UK. Prosecuted in 1952 for “homosexual acts,” Turing chose—though how it’s even a fair choice is a whole other debate—to be chemically castrated with estrogen injections rather than serve time in prison. We’ll leave you to watch Morten Tyldum’s upcoming film The Imitation Game, starring the increasingly popular Benedict Cumberbatch, of BBC’s Sherlock, to find out Turing’s fate. While it’s not necessary to be fluent in World War II-era code to enjoy the film, here are three key preparatory steps to get you in the mood for another tortured genius on screen.

 

1. Read Andrew Hodges’s Alan Turing: The Enigma

Hodges’s much-lauded study of Turing, first published in 1992, is the basis for Tyldum’s film. Adapted by Graham Moore, who ironically first gained notoriety in the literary world for his 2010 debut novel, The Sherlockian, the film is both a biopic and social commentary. If you pick up the newly released edition of Hodges’s book, you’ll get to read the author’s new foreword, which addresses—no spoilers here—the British government’s landmark 2013 decision regarding Turing’s legacy.

The Enigma

 

2. Get to know the work of director Morten Tyldum

The Norwegian director first made a splash in America with his 2011 film Headhunters, which is based on the bestselling standalone crime novel by Jo Nesbø. The Imitation Game will be Tyldum’s English language debut but his success in his native country bodes well for the Turing biopic: Headhunters is the most profitable Norwegian film of all time.

3. Rejoice in all things Cumberbatch

Go beyond Sherlock—and if you haven’t watched Steven Moffat’s phenomenal modern day take on Sherlock Holmes starring Cumberbatch as the brilliant and moody detective, stop reading RIGHT NOW and add it to your Netflix queue. Cumberbatch, along with The Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne, is part of a recently “discovered” (at least by Americans) group of British actors who seem to be everywhere these days. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, which explores the life and work of Stephen Hawking, would make an excellent, if heady, double feature: two helpings of tortured genius struggling to overcome monumental obstacles. And speaking of Hawking, you should most certainly watch Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the groundbreaking scientist in the 2004 British made-for-TV-movie, Hawking. Cumberbatch is also superb in 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (where he sports blond hair) and 2013’s The Fifth Estate (where he plays arguably another troubled genius, Julian Assange). But you can’t really go wrong with the actor’s filmography, so might as well queue up the whole thing and get ready for a major Netflix binge.

The Imitation Game opens on November 28 here in the States (it was released in the UK on November 14) and will most likely be a serious Oscar contender. You don’t need a code breaker to figure this out: go buy a ticket now.

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Jordan is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, after spending six years in NYC for college and graduate school (where she earned her MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia) before realizing that her heart belonged in the Pacific Northwest. She (hopefully) puts that degree to good use writing for BookTrib and Publishers Weekly about the vast quantity of books she reads. While Jordan’s literary diet is largely crime fiction—as she was raised, often literally, in Portland’s only mystery bookstore—she’s perfectly content to read novels and nonfiction that lack a murder because good writing transcends labels. Follow her on Twitter @jordanfoster13.